FREE AT LAST
Free At Last is about the
relatively small group of people who finally achieved the goal of
freedom from the
wrongs they suffered. We cannot call it "Justice at last" because it is
justice for an innocent to have to spend precious years of their lives
fighting for a
freedom which should never have been taken from them. Even so, there is
cause to rejoice
-- at least they are finally free. In many cases these wronged
innocents step into a world
of new bewilderment as they go back to families with fantasies only
years of deprivation
can conjure. At any rate, a family or circle to which they must
adjust... or not.
Some will emerge from prison without friends
or family to welcome them, and they must begin a new battle. However,
free, so rather than bemoan the fate which befell them or the hardships
they face because
of it, we celebrate their freedom and hope they will receive courage
and strength from the
knowledge that they have inspired others to hard work and faith towards
their own freedom.
We pay tribute to the men and women who have gained such a hard-fought
freedom. May you
grow, prosper, and grab every chance for happiness.
The Justice Denied Team
Writes His Way Out of Prison After 62,000
By Hans Sherrer for Justice:Denied
Wrongfully convicted of
a cab driver's 1987 murder, Anthony Faison wrote 62,000 letters over 12
years in an effort to find someone who could find the truth that would
set him and his friend, Charles Shepard, free.
After responding to a pickup call in
Brooklyn at 5 a.m. on March 14, 1987, Jean Ulysses was found
by a passing police car in his cab dying from a single
bullet fired through his right cheek.
Contacted by detectives looking for
informant Nicky Roper suggested they talk to
Carolyn Van Buren. She told the detectives that she saw
Anthony Faison, who lived on the street
where the murder took place, shoot the cab driver
during a holdup while his best friend, Charles Shepard,
acted as a lookout.
Professing their innocence, the two
men were arrested
and tried. There was no physical evidence that linked
them to the murder, and Ms. Van Buren's testimony was
the sole "evidence" of any kind against the men.
Although she admitted she was a drug user and that she
drank 10 beers on the night of the shooting, the jury
believed her story. On May 31, 1988 the jury convicted
Mr. Faison and Mr. Shepard of second degree murder.
The two men were sentenced to life
Anthony asked for a sentencing delay to marry his
pregnant girlfriend, his request was denied by New York State Supreme
Court Justice Robert Kreindler. He
said: "In the eyes of the law he is legally dead."
Another disappointment was that Anthony's
two-year-old daughter was sent to live with foster
After being imprisoned for a year,
Anthony began to
write letters to anyone and everyone who he thought
might be able to help exonerate Charles and him. Over
the next 12 years Anthony doggedly hand wrote an
average of 14 letters a day, 7 days a week.
He wrote to members of Congress, senators, lawyers, law
enforcement officials, state legislators and strangers.
His nickname among inmates and staff alike was "The
In describing his letter writing,
Anthony said: "There
were weekends where I'd just stay in for 48 hours
straight. Cook in the cage, eat in the cage. And when
Monday morning rolls around, I may have 60
letters." Carefully logging each letter in a
notebook, Anthony placed a red check next to each
letter that was answered.
In January 1999, Anthony noticed a
new name posted on
the prison's law library bulletin board: Michael S.
Race, a Long Island private investigator with 23 years
experience as a homicide detective. Anthony wrote Mr.
Race a four-page letter, mentioning that Ms. Van
Buren had AIDS and if she died without recanting her
testimony he might lose his only chance to be
exonerated. In February he received a response. Michael
Race had taken Anthony's letter seriously, and it
inspired him to search for, locate, and interview
Carolyn Van Buren. In his letter Michael Race wrote:
"She admits that the whole story is a lie!" Ms. Van
Buren admitted that Nicky Roper had cooked up the
scheme for her to testify against Anthony and Charles,
and they split the $1,000 police reward.
Her retraction was backed by
physical evidence. Ms. Van
Buren testified that she saw Anthony shoot the cab
driver while standing on the driver's side of the cab.
That couldn't be true, however, because the driver's
door was locked and the window was up and unbroken when
the police arrived. So the shooter must have been in
the back seat and used the unlocked rear door to leave
Continuing on his one-man
instigation, Mr. Race
found Nicky Roper. He admitted coaching Carolyn Van
Buren about identifying the two men. In an April 2000
deposition Mr. Roper said he wanted to get even with
Anthony Faison who was a construction worker, for
refusing to recommend him for a job where he worked.
In April 2000 Michael Race also
learned about a letter
received in August 1988 by Kimiyo Strawder from her
then boyfriend, Arlet Cheston. Ms. Strawder told
Michael that Mr. Cheston had written to her about "two
guys from around the way that are doing time for a
murder he committed." Riding in the cab's back seat, he
said he "did what he had to do" after the driver
refused to give him his money.
Although Ms. Van Buren's retraction,
deposition and Ms. Strawder's information seemed to be
compelling new evidence exonerating Anthony and
Charles, a Court refused to vacate their conviction.
The denial of that appeal was one of a dozen rejected
by various Courts during the course of the men's case.
Lawyer Ron Kuby had also received
one of Anthony's
letters, but he didn't take an interest in his case
until Michael Race contacted him. Focusing on 11
fingerprints recovered from the cab that didn't match
those of either Anthony or Charles, Mr. Kuby petitioned
a judge on April 20, 2001 to order that they be compared with Arlet
Cheston's. The order
was granted, and the tests revealed that two prints
from the cab's glass partition were similar to those of Mr. Cheston. He
arrested on May 11, and his confession that night to
Mr. Ulysses' murder was videotaped.
His confession accomplished what a
dozen appeals over
13 years had failed to do. On May 14, 2001, Justice
Kreindler, who 13 years before had said that Anthony
was "legally dead," ordered the immediate release of Anthony Faison and
After their release the two men
filed a $60 million
wrongful conviction suit against the state. Anthony is
trying to regain custody of his daughter, who is now
15, and his son by his ex-girlfriend who is now 13.
Charles can now be more than the absentee father to his
son that he was for 13 years.
Considering their life sentences,
Anthony Faison and
Charles Shepard had a fairy tale ending to the tragic
injustice inflicted upon them. Yet the two men would
have had no chance to rebuild their lives if Anthony
had let tens of thousands of unanswered letters stop
him from continuing to try to find the one
person on the outside who could, and would be willing
to assist Charles and him to find the evidence that
would prove their innocence. If Anthony had quit
after 5,000, or 25,000, or even 60,000 letters, he
wouldn't have provided Michael Race with the chance to
give the crucial helping hand that led to them walking
out of prison as free men.
Anthony explained his persistence by
philosophy was this: The only way I will get out
of prison is to write myself out. And I lived by that.
And that's exactly what I did." The 62,000 letters
that Anthony wrote are carefully logged in 10
notebooks, and the entry to his fateful letter to
Michael Race has a red check next to it.
Comment on Anthony Faison by Hans
I think Time Magazine made a serious
nominee for 2001's Man of the Year is Anthony Faison.
Mr. Faison's never say die attitude and dogged
determination to clear his friend and himself under the
most trying of circumstances and in the face of
unrelenting disappointment for 12 years, exemplifies
the spirit of America at its most magnificent.
Source: "Among inmate's 62,000
letters, one leads to
freedom," Larry McShane (AP), Herald-Journal,
Spartanburg, SC, August 26, 2001, A1 and A8.
Free At Last Features:
Volume 1 Issue 1:
1 Issue 2:
1 Issue 3
Editorial by Charles Sparks
1 Issue 4
Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson
Volume 1 Issue 5
Schmieder and Clark
Volume 1 Issue 6
Volume 1 Issue 9
Cheryl Amirault-Le Fave
Volume 1 Issue 12
Volume 2 Issue 1
Volume 2 Issue 3
Albert Burell, Michael Graham and Christopher Ochoa
Volume 2 Issue 4
Volume 2 Issue 7
Jerry Frank Townsend